Luddite…or just a traditionalist

There is quite a debate raging over on about a service provided to amateur radio operators by the ARRL. With the Internet and computer being an integral part of most of our shacks, the ARRL created Logbook of the World, an electronic way to do confirmations of QSOs, a function previously done by QSL cards through the mail. Some say they went overboard on the security aspect of their system. It does require a security certificate with an applicant’s call sign and location verified through the Federal Communications Commission before it is granted to the user. Many hams have had difficulties setting up the system on their computers or moving it to a different machine when necessary and are having a fit about having to jump through such hoops for what they see as no real good reason.

The thrust of the eHam comments–and those with a negative view tend to dominate this discussion just as they do any Internet forum–is that LoTW is too complex, that it threatens the traditional printed, post office-delivered QSL card, and even that it threatens the “privacy” of anyone who uses the system since the League could sell that info or it could be subpoenaed by some nefarious government agency.

This type of debate seems to be quite common these days anytime there is a new-fangled way to do anything in our society. I suspect a big part of it is simple resistance to technological change. People still have a choice in most things technical. You don’t have to use a smart phone, join Facebook, have an email address, or use an online QSO confirmation service. But I understand why anyone with an aversion to change or a distrust–however well placed or dismally unfounded it might be–of all this technology is reluctant to accept it.

I enjoy getting a QSL card from a new country in Africa or one that bears a picture of a ham’s antenna farm in rural Belgium. I hope we never lose that personal touch. But I also enjoy the convenience and cost savings of being able to confirm contacts electronically. Stamps to mail to some parts of the world are expensive. It can take years to send and receive back a card. Stations in rare locations get tons of requests for confirmations and that can run into big expense for them, too. Some even ask for “green stamps”to offset their expenses, but putting cash into an envelope is risky, especially in some spots where an envelope bound for a ham radio operator is routinely opened because everyone knows there are bucks in there.

But the real reason I endorse LoTW and similar services is that it allows me to easily and inexpensively extend the courtesy of a confirmation to anyone and everyone who wants it for whatever reason. I still get paper cards and I display them on the wall in my office/”shack.” I enjoy looking at them. I hope they never stop coming. But I also recognize that there is a way that is better in most aspects and that allows me to benefit from the service. And I believe there are enough people like me who still like the card that they will probably not go away.

And isn’t that what new technology is supposed to do? I love the fact that I can download a book on my Nook, but I also still enjoy the traditional book. I also think both methods will still be around for a long, long time.

But I also understand that all this change is scaring the bejesus out of some folks.

Don Keith, N4KC, is a regular contributor to and writes from Alabama, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

14 Responses to “Luddite…or just a traditionalist”

  • Frank K4FMH:

    For some survey results from your neck of the woods, Don, see:

    73 de K4FMH

  • Frank, that is good info. I don’t think anything there surprised me. Thanks for passing it along.

    73 de N4KC

  • GB KC5GB:

    You hit the right note when you mentioned “courtesy”. I use all methods and upload to both LoTW and eQSL. After all, even though I may not need the QSL the other Ham might need mine. The idea that one only uses a certain method because he or she likes it is being a bit self centered – whether caused by Luddite tendencies, laziness, or old fartiness.

  • Peter KG5WY:

    It is my belief that our society is becoming too digitized when it comes to amateur radio. From computer based radios to QSL cards that are no longer cards at all. Radio was FUN when you sat in front of a real radio and sent a REAL QSL card through the REAL mail.
    It is becoming too ridiculous when the modes of operation resemble emails, and there are APPS for your smart phones that can send CW. Where’s the challenge?

    Soon we’ll be using cell phones for our contacts instead of radios and expect someone else to log it all for us.

  • Stewart VA3PID:

    I’m not set up to send QSL cards; I’m quite clear on my profile that I don’t want them, either. I send and receive CW having the computer doing the encoding and decoding; it’s just another digital mode, after all. I let the computer keep track of the logging. Basically, anything that a computer can do as well or better, I let it do. I’d much rather do the fun stuff than the administrivia.

  • Goody K3NG:

    LOTW is not threatening paper QSLs, reality is. It costs way too much to send paper QSLs. Ironically, probably a lot of these guys complaining about the decline of paper QSLs would be happy to eliminate the US postal service for political and budgetary reasons.

    I’ve often said LOTW is horribly over-engineered. I’m surprised so many amateurs actually use it considering the proliferation of old timers, but it’s amazing what people will do when there’s awards to be had and people put their minds to it.

    It’s sad ARRL put so much effort into the technical design of LOTW, with public and private key authentication, and yet we lack an open decentralized messaging system with Internet interoperability.

  • Peter KG5WY, the beauty of it is you can do it exactly as you want to. Like Stewart VA3PID does it with the ‘puter doing about everything. Like you do, with nary a computer in sight. Or like I do, a mixture of traditional and modern technology that suits my style.

    When the day comes that I can dial a random number on my cell phone and almost always strike up an interesting conversation with a fascinating person on the other end with whom I have common interests, and when the chat depends on the miracle of RF propagation and how well I have built and installed my own antennas and put together my station and how skillfully I deal with QRM,QSB and QRN, then I might agree that the cell phone will take over.


    Don N4KC

  • Mike, K1VI:

    Bravo Don! If I were to write my thoughts carefully and clearly, I would write the same article. Yes, the initial security set-up could be clearer. But now I can still send paper cards anytime I want, and save the postage; yet still get confirmations, where that’s the goal, on LOTW. Besides its obvious intent, it also helped me get way-more-organized: Coupled with using Ham Radio Deluxe, I was pleasantly surprised to see I was already 90% of the way to 5BDXCC, and am now hunting down those last few countries on 10 meters, to complete it.

  • Ernest Gregoire, AA1IK:

    I second Mike’s Bravo to you Don,

    The cell phone comments above, I’ll reserve for D-star like modes. To each his own!

    Stuffing QSL cards into a shoe box, never to see the light of day again, always seemed to be an effort of expensive futility to me. I prefer and electronic picture frame.

    The E-QSL service has the ability to view the card of the person you worked. You can then, if you desire it, download it to a SD card. The SD card is placed in the electronic picture frame. It can be removed for updating as new QSL cards accumulate. I play a ‘Slide Show’ of my QSL cards as I operate. Its a great way to see them and to show them to others with little effort. The bonus is that you can store an enormous amount of QLS cards on the SD card.

    de AA1IK


    Ernest Gregoire

  • Tony Hoffman, AA2TH:

    I don’t consider myself a luddite, but maybe a bit of a ditz. I look forward to enjoying all the benefits of LoTW–just as soon as I can figure out in which box that postcard I received from the FCC (or was it the ARRL?) with my confirming info months ago ended up…

    73 de AA2TH
    Tony Hoffman

  • K4TOJ - Tom:

    My sentiments exactly! I think there is a place for the paper card and electronic version. I’m a new amateur and it took me about a year to design my QSL card and find a place to print it for a good price. i have sent some cards out, but not many. I have received a few cards as well. But – it is expensive and there is no guarantee that you will get one back after you spent money on the return envelope and postage or other means for them to return their card. The electronic version is faster and less expensive.

    Will there always be a place of the paper card? Absolutely! There are places where getting an internet connection is still very difficult. There are some on air events, like 13 colonies, where you have to send them a card to get one in return. And, like the Australia one I just received, that are like badges of honor you want to display.

    Tom – K4TOJ

  • Garth KF7ATL:

    I don’t consider myself a Luddite–after all, I do use a computer and a cell phone. I do, however, think that I am a traditionalist. I don’t own a digital watch, since I prefer analog. CW is my preferred mode, even though I occasionally use PSK. I prefer to send and receive paper QSLs, even though I sometimes use LoTW.

    The point is, I do things the way I do because it’s my choice. Some may choose the non-traditional approach, and that’s okay. Whatever floats your boat is okay with me, as long as it isn’t unethical or illegal. Isn’t it great that we have a choice? That’s the beauty of ham radio. There is something for almost everyone.

    Garth, KF7ATL

  • Ernest Gregoire, AA1IK:

    One more thing!

    E-QSL’s can be printed on your own computer, so you can have both paper and electronic qsl cards from the same source

    Ernest Gregoire

    de AA1IK

  • Ergrg:

    Hi Eric,Let me answer the quesoitns. Do people still send cards directly to you or to Global QSL?The answer to this is that people will still send cards to you. You process them in your logging system. For bureau cards coming in and your reply, you send the ADIF file to Global QSL and they will print cards and send them to the correct QSL bureau.They have an OPTION where if a ham in another DX country from me, such as Ireland, ALSO uses Global QSL for bureau cards, Global QSL will print the EI card for me and send it either directly to me or to my K9 bureau for processing.The assumption that I am using is that direct DX cards to me I still handle directly using my cards (Global QSL will send you your cards without QSO information for this purpose, just like ordering QSL cards from anyone else). As to the second question, will domestic cards still be handled by me the answer is yes. Global QSL will simply manage all the DX bureau cards.Hope this helps.

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